Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday slowdown

When we try to do our best for Him, and sometimes things don't go the way we'd hoped.....

Thy will be done.....

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Snow treasures for politically correct speech

I feel like I'm opening a surprise box today..... I've prayed about what I plan to post and I hope that it will make sense to all who pause here.  I have things that I want to say, and I know that some may take issue with my words and my thoughts; my defense is a simple one: the Holy Spirit guided me to this topic. I'm relying on Him to help me, for I'm neither as learned or as eloquent as many who approach this subject, but I'm going to try to lay some things out here to discuss!

All week we have alluded to the climate of communication today. Talking with those we know and love, and talking with strangers, too, can be likened to the proverbial minefield. We pick and choose our words, and most of us are not the type to denigrate anyone or be impolite.
But try as we may, there are still going to be those who take offense at what we say. They may pick at our choice of vocabulary. "Politically incorrect!" they will shout. "Offensive!" someone else will say.  "I'm traumatized," says another.
I will apologize now to our friends in other countries who read here, since my examples and quotations will all be based on American history and culture; perhaps their own culture has examples, as well.....
I love this quote that is attributed to Voltaire:

“I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This is the America that I grew up in. The America that has existed for a couple of centuries, where our First Amendment states that people have the right to say what they want. Of course, the Supreme Court said in 1942 that "the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or 'fighting' words -- those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace," were excepted from the First Amendment protections, even though subsequent decisions have made room for obscene and profane speech.  In 1992, the high Court refined its opinion to rule that the government may not discriminate among the ideas that the words convey.

In other words, the government has no business trying to bar what we now hear referred to as "hate speech." Speech that will cause "anger, resentment or alarm in others based on race, color, religion, creed, or gender." I am just as scandalized and dismayed at Holocaust deniers, race-baiters, and those who will demonize others for their religion or their state of mind, as anyone else is. I decry the use of harsh words and hurtful terms. But to criminalize words? To criminalize thought?

Since when did the Constitution say that people could bring charges against those whose opinions or words offended them? Notice I didn't say "harm." We see the cutting edge of this movement on campuses today. Students are not offered fair rules, equal justice, and consistent standards. College students today are not encouraged to have vigorous discussions with those who disagree with them. Today they are encouraged to press charges against those who offend them.
The late President Bush said this:
"The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land," he said. "And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones." 
They have tried to stop incivility. They have embarked on a slippery slope toward thought control.... it's only out of the clash of opinions and freewheeling discussions (a staple of life when I was in college) that truth can ultimately emerge. Even when opinions are false, disagreeable, and unpopular, it's the airing in the light of day that can eventually change peoples' minds. Not the hushing up that is being used today.
I read a quote from a professor at the University of Michigan, Vincent Hutchings, who admitted that the phrases "politically correct" and "offensive" are being used as a "kind of linguistic jujitsu" to disable an opponent's argument.
In other words, if you can't discuss it, shut it down.

Let's look back at the First Amendment again..... the founders of our country placed a premium on the ability to persuasively articulate opposing viewpoints. The whole reason that they rejected government censorship of speech was because they trusted that individuals would regulate themselves. They didn't prohibit offensive speech because they sincerely believed that truth lost its power unless it was confronted with falsehoods. They believed that tolerance needed to stand tall in contrast with prejudice. They knew that an idea, whether it was true or false, could be debated and either stand or fall -- debates that should be able to be, in the words of Justice William Brennan, "uninhibited, robust, and wide open."  What was common sense to them then, has been discarded now.
One of the signers of the Constitution was William Livingston. He looked at the American colleges of 250 years ago and noted that the doctrines the students learned "pass from the memory and understanding to the heart, and at length become a second nature...... appearing on the bench, at the bar, in the pulpit, and in the senate."  What he observed then is even more true today -- the intellectual intolerance that is growing so strongly on the campuses of America holds a dire threat to the freedom of thought, speech, and press that are dearly cherished by many Americans.

I see three problems in the communication squabbles of today..... first, we can't learn much (about ideas or about each other) if we are unwilling to listen to ideas that challenge our own opinions. Even our own strongly held opinions can't be fully understood until we have to think hard enough about them in order to defend them vigorously. We must be willing to examine objectively the opinions that we hold dear, and also to listen objectively to those of others. Many today will simply scream objections to drown out the opinions of others who don't agree with them. What a waste! What a loss of opportunity for us to understand and value each other!

Secondly, we are under constant social pressure -- we must monitor everything we say, lest some unguarded politically incorrect phrase costs us our friends, our status, even our employment. Not only is this a constant stressful state, but it severely hampers individuals' abilities and opportunities to think for themselves. Instead of open, even passionate discussion, we become boring and "cookie cutter" in our mentality and our opinions. This is quite the opposite of the independent, thoughtful, plainspoken (and outspoken) character that used to exemplify Americans of just a few years ago.

Thirdly, we are rapidly approaching (or perhaps well into it, already) a climate in which reasonable discussion of controversial topics is simply impossible. It's important to be able to think aloud and to discuss openly the merits of topics on which not everyone holds the same opinion. As less tolerant individuals achieve leadership roles, I'm afraid that Congress will make laws and the courts will say they pass muster -- laws in which our First Amendment rights will grow smaller and smaller. The next step will be when agencies of the administration pass rules abhorrent to the First Amendment. The process will begin with laws and regulations forbidding "hate" speech and will end far down at the bottom of the slippery slope.

No, I wouldn't label myself a conspiracist, but I do see our rights declining before my eyes. We should view with alarm any attempt to muzzle individuals' speech. Madison insisted many years ago, "the right of freely examining public characters and public measures, and of free communication among the people thereon . . . . has ever been justly deemed, the only effectual guardian of every other right."
In the words of some people a little closer to our time; here's a compilation of authors, politicians, and more:

"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage." Winston Churchill

"I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion may be." Studs Terkel

"Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended, it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people. I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down." Salmon Rushdie

"It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more....than a has no meaning; it has no purpose." Stephen Fry

Take away our freedom of speech?
You've started the dominos falling -- our other rights are threatened severely.

I hope that this week we have examined (calmly) the climate of communication today, and ways that we can try to bring reasoned thought and speech to the table. We may not always be appreciated for what we say, but we should never stop trying!
For our own parts, we must never think that we must agree with people and their opinions in order to defend them from injustice. I hope that this is a concept that will begin to permeate the communication climate of today....

Be sure to comment below if you'd like to let us know your feedback on this two-week study!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Snow treasures - more about communication

We are winding up our study of our passage in Proverbs. We've been camped here for a while, as we consider ideal speech from believers, politically correct speech that we hear about today, and our speech as a witness for our Lord. There's been a lot here for us, and I for one have received both blessings and instruction from the study!
Here are our verses for today:
If you find honey, eat just enough—    too much of it, and you will vomit. Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house—    too much of you, and they will hate you. (Proverbs 25:16-17)
Whoa! That's about speech?
Well, yes, among other behaviors.
These verses warn against excess, just like my grandma did, when she said, "too much of a good thing," right? If we indulge too much in things that are tasty, or things that are good, or things that are comfortable, we may get ourselves into trouble. Overdoing anything can be a problem.
So, too, we should avoid excessive speech:
To answer before listening—    that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Matthew 12:36)
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded    than the shouts of a ruler of fools. (Ecclesiastes 9:17)
Those who guard their mouths and their tongues    keep themselves from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23)
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,    and discerning if they hold their tongues. (Proverbs 17:28)
Things that are not commonplace become valued. If we are constantly speaking, we run the risk of being an annoyance. Just like if we are constantly at our neighbor's house, we are not as welcome -- we become annoying! We should speak enough that our words are valued.

The last verse in our passage deals again with truthfulness:
Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow    is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor. (v. 18)
The terrible consequences of lying are compared here to weapons of warfare! Giving false testimony against a neighbor refers to a courtroom setting, and it's said to be similar to weapons that can crush, divide, or pierce someone.  We need to pay close attention to all that we say about others. A false tongue can make for more conflict and more hostility. We can kill reputations, assassinate character, and destroy lives. Nope, I'm not being dramatic; I've seen it happen.
Shading the truth, raising doubt, casting suspicion on someone . . . even a raised eyebrow or a voice inflection can cause our hearer to think differently about a person. Communication is a powerful thing!
What about gossip, too? That can be just as bad -- it truly violates the law of love toward our neighbor. We can never justify gossip.
Gossip feeds our desires to feel superior to someone else. It nurtures those feelings of wanting to fit in to a group. It can be a challenging habit to correct, but the key is to love people and pray for them. Kinda hard to talk badly about someone when you just asked God to bless them and help them!

Knowing what to say and when to say it is the full essence of godly wisdom. In these days of difficult communication, it can try our souls. Oh, how we need the Spirit's help! With terms like "hate speech" and "triggers" and "victim-hood" being bandied about, we believers are in the crosshairs. We are targets for those who seek to shut us down. To stop our communication, because after all, they don't agree with us.
We mentioned before that the term "politically correct" may have been a good concept at one time, but that now it is used as a sledge hammer to shut people up. What may have started as an attempt for more civility, has morphed into a whole new animal!
We will discuss more of this tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Verses that inspire

Our ongoing study has prompted my searching for familiar and not so familiar verses to help us along.....

Here are some for us to think about today:
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6, NIV)
A gentle answer turns away wrath,    but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,    but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2, NIV)
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”  (Acts 18:9-10)
Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way. Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. (Titus 3:1-2, GNT)
There's that "gold standard" we mentioned! Let's determine that we will follow the guidelines the Bible gives to us!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Snow treasures - communication in politically correct times

Verse fifteen in our passage is our focal point for today:
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,    and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15)
Like so many of the proverbs do, this verse points out the benefits of moderation. Specifically, it reveals just how powerful patient persuasion can be.
We can imagine the situation here; a counselor is trying to change a ruler's mind. Perhaps the leader is considering a rash course of action. Perhaps he is plotting revenge, or a flash raid against an enemy. For whatever reason, the advisor needs to win over the ruler; he or she needs to persuade him that another course of action is better.
It's a difficult assignment when one is trying to win over someone who is in authority! The conversation is quite different when someone is a peer, an equal.  That leader likes almost anything better than being put on the spot. Or being shown up for having poor judgement!
Being pushy? Really not good for this.
Persuasion takes patience.
One of the root meanings of the word used here also carries the meaning of "prevail upon." It also refers to "courting," when the intention is to win over a person, or change their way of thinking.
In fact, it's used in several other places:
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her." (Hosea 2:14)
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. (Exodus 22:16)
But still, the image of a tongue breaking a hard bone seems very unusual, no? We are left wondering, how can that be? The commentaries note that the writer's idea is this: softly spoken words can accomplish difficult things. If an advisor wishes to change the mind of a stubborn official, a gentle word can accomplish more than yelling and bluster. Or if a spouse wishes to influence a decision of her mate, a gentle tongue and a calm demeanor can accomplish much more than anger.

And if we hope to speak effectively to an unbeliever in this age of political correctness, we do well to remember this verse . . . patience and a soft word can be unusually influential. We can go far further in this way than we can with loss of temper, harsh words, or lack of manners and politeness. The strongest defenses can be overcome. The most passionate arguments can be resolved.
I don't mean that we can always win right away -- sometimes the arguer needs time to go off and think. Upon consideration, they may come back to us and talk more. At the very least, we have impressed them with our calmness in the face of their passion and intolerance. A godly, wise speaker will use persistence and gentleness to win victories.
It seems counter-intuitive, but it's true: if we speak in a soft voice, then people have to listen. We've all been in the situation of a person yelling their disagreement with us, right? Don't we pretty much tune them out? We shelter ourselves from their venom, and don't truly pay attention.
But when we hear someone talking softly, we pause. We get quiet ourselves. It's necessary in order to hear what is being said. This concept reminds me of our study of Abigail some months ago. David and his soldiers had been insulted by her husband, and Abigail took the initiative in the moment of crisis. She met David, coming to her home with vengeance on his agenda -- she gently and humbly appealed to David's sense of mercy. Her grace and courage changed his mind and the course of their lives.
The Lord doesn't expect us to be doormats in the face of those who claim they've been offended. But He doesn't want us to confront others with anger, nor with insults of our own for our accusers. His Spirit can help us be gentle and courageous.
We can make our point.
We don't need to make enemies.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Snow treasures - communication, continuing

Today's section is verse 14:
Like clouds and wind without rain    is one who boasts of gifts never given. (Proverbs 25:14)
So far, we have talked about communication problems like "politically correct" speech, and the perception of someone yelling at the hearer.
We've looked at verses that have told us to make sure our words are well-chosen, and that they are timed appropriately. We also discussed being faithful messengers of God's Word -- and a side note here -- that can cause some issues when we are communicating with some people! Being a faithful messenger includes speaking truthfully, even when the hearer is not interested in the truth. We looked at a "sandwich" strategy to help with that; but please bear in mind that it won't always work! There will be some who do not wish to hear what we have to say. There will be others who will take offense at our words, where no offense is meant. In those cases, we simply must remember the example of our Lord, who did not retaliate:
He was oppressed and afflicted,    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,    so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9)
There are verses in the gospels that repeat the fact that in front of the High Priest, and in front of Pilate, Jesus was silent. That doesn't mean that we must endure and not defend ourselves..... we have covered that before. But it does bring up the point that if people rejected Him, His message, and His plan, we cannot reasonably expect to be accepted all of the time!

Today's verse talks about "being real." We hear about that a lot, don't we? Many people will listen half-heartedly to what a believer says, and then say, "Get real, I don't believe you!"
Some folks use that a lot because they have a problem "being real" themselves. There is so much shallowness and fakery in their lives that they simply have trouble believing that other people are genuine.
Others have been let down or disappointed by those they trusted, those they thought were sincere.
The metaphor the writer uses here comes from the agricultural side of things. Clouds and wind usually mean that there is rain coming. Farmers rely on the rain from those storms to soften the ground for planting, to enable the seed to germinate, and to encourage the crops to grow.
If there are clouds rolling up and a breeze freshening, the farmers are optimistic that the rain is coming. However, if no rain comes, they are keenly disappointed! Clouds without rain symbolized promises without results in the Hebrew's way of thinking. It meant show without performance; it meant dashed hopes; it meant crushed dreams. In years of drought and the famine that ensued, clouds and wind with no rain were promises that were not real.
The writer likened these concepts to talk of feigned generosity. People (especially believers) should not promise what they cannot deliver. If we know we cannot follow through, we should not promise.

We have all been in the company of people who are not genuine. Some claim that they will give presents or donations, but never keep their promises. Some claim they will complete a task, but never truly finish the job. Perhaps there are extenuating circumstances that keep the person from doing what they say  -- we're not talking about them. We are talking about braggarts (see the word "boast" in our verse?) who want to pull the wool over our eyes.... they either want us to believe they have money, capability, or power that they don't possess, or they want us to believe them generous or capable when they are not!

Communicating well requires that we be genuine -- we must "be real." There is integrity in wise speech that brings refreshing. In all our speech we must avoid promising what we cannot deliver. If we do not keep our promises, we frustrate and eventually anger our hearers; then we cause our reputation and our witness to fail.
The Word of God is solid, practical, and real. When our speech is guided by the Word, we will be faithful messengers. There is power in the Word of God to change lives, and when the Word is used by the Spirit within us, true life change can happen!
Let's be real!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Snow treasures - Communication, continued

Today's treasure is the next two verses in our passage.....the writer switches from talking about ornamental things like jewelry to talking about weather. (Grin)

Here are verses thirteen and fourteen:
Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time    is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him;    he refreshes the spirit of his master. Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given. (Proverbs 25:13-14) 
Cool drinks were refreshing to the wealthy and the high-born in the ancient Middle East. Only they could afford one of the various ways of obtaining (or making) ice. Come on, you may be saying, they didn't have refrigerators or freezers!
Yup, I know that.
But there were mountains.
And there were winters.
And there were ingenious and creative people.
Let me explain....
In ancient times, there was not a horse-drawn wagon going up streets and down, with a burly man with ice tongs, stopping at each house to inquire if the "icebox" needed a nice big block of ice to keep the food from spoiling and keep the tea cold, etc. (Grin)
But that didn't stop people....One could (if one had servants or a great deal of money to hire people) send people to the tippy tops of the high mountains where there was snow almost all year round. They could harvest snow or chunks of ice, and insulate it in straw and bring it down. Of course, a lot of it would melt, but some would make it back - a precious commodity to be placed in an underground cavern or cellar packed with straw and meted out sparingly.
One could also harvest in the winter and try to make it last.... I don't imagine that worked so well.
Lastly, the ancient peoples were no dummies; they learned how to make their own ice! The Egyptians and the Arabs, both people groups living in the desert, were aware of just how cold it could get at night in the desert. They discovered that a thin layer of water could freeze in the night and be carefully collected in the early morning....many a sheik or Pharaoh enjoyed sipping a cool drink because of this early technology.

Changing gears, here, and considering the typical harvest time in the ancient Middle East.... typically in the heat of summer, the crops of wheat, barley, mullet, corn, and more were harvested by hand. The workers chopped at the crops with hand tools, gathered them up and then sifted or prepared them, all by hand. There was usually a threshing floor with a bit of shade, but they didn't spend much time there. The sun beating down on them, the heat, the dirt, the bits of stalks and the dust of the chaff, oh, how hot and dusty and dirty they were!
Now the metaphor of "a snow cooled drink at harvest time" makes sense, right? (Grin)

So, how does this fit into our study of communication? Well-chosen words? Appropriate timing?
It's because of the description of the speaker: a faithful messenger. To be a competent communicator of messages, the messenger must not allow his message to be garbled or misunderstood. Our words must not only be well-chosen, they must also be unerringly truthful. In this day of politically correct speech, and easily hurt feelings, it may be extremely difficult (and uncomfortable) to be truthful. But a faithful messenger will relay precisely the message that she is given. In ancient times, the person who had sent the message would receive the news that the correct message got through would be so happy! Just as refreshed as if they discovered or drank some wonderful chilled water in the heat of harvest time! One has to wonder when reading some other proverbs, if Solomon was thinking of times he'd sent a message and the messenger had not been faithful....check out Proverbs 10:26 and also 26:6 and see what you think!

So, let's think about it: in this day of "spin" and political correctness, can we be relied upon to be truthful? Will we represent truthfully the happenings of a meeting? Will we convey all of the details of a document we are asked about? When we are asked about what a person said or did, will we tell the details without embellishment?
The Lord detests lying lips,    but he delights in people who are trustworthy. (Proverbs 12:22)
These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; (Zechariah 8:16)
How can we apply this to our own lives? Have we not been given the responsibility of being faithful messengers?
A friend who delivers an accurate message is a blessing to her friend; as refreshing as a cool drink in the heat of summer. A congregation member who delivers a message to her pastor is a blessing, as well. An employee who speaks accurately and trustworthily to her boss is a blessing, too.
Hey, I wonder if that is how our Lord feels when we (His messengers) deliver His Word with reasonable accuracy?
It's something to think about!
 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  (II Timothy 2:15)